Category Archives: Most Wanted List

Are you Making the Right Choice?

By Stephanie Shaw

Did you know that motor vehicle-related deaths are a leading cause of unintentional death for children in the United States?

Did you know that in 2015, nearly 500 children under age 7—many of whom were unrestrained—were killed in motor vehicle crashes?

Did you know that children are safest when using a child safety seat or booster seat, but nearly half of child car seats and booster seats are used incorrectly?

For parents, these statistics might be terrifying and overwhelming. As a parent and volunteer child passenger safety technician, I take comfort in knowing that the best way to protect my own children is to properly use age-appropriate child car seats and booster seats. But with so many messages out there and so many options for child car seats and booster seats, how does the average parent choose the right one?

Today, I want to share the answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten from parents and caregivers regarding car seats and booster seats.

Q. Which child car seat is the safest?

A. All child car seats must meet the same federal safety standards, but car seat designs vary. That’s why it’s critical to look for a seat that’s recommended for your child’s height and weight.

Q. So, I just need to buy the right car seat?

A. Not so fast. Buying the right seat for your child is the first step, but it still falls on the adult to install and use the car seat properly every time.

Q. How do I install and use a child car seat?

A. Read carefully and follow the instructions that came with your car seat, and also consult your vehicle owner’s manual; both provide steps for how and where to install the seat in your vehicle. All children should ride properly secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. If you would like help installing your seat, visit Safe Kids Worldwide to locate a child passenger safety technician in your area.

Q. When do you change from rear-facing to forward-facing seats?

A. Children under the age of 2 are best protected when they are in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as their spine and neck are not developed enough to support their head in the event of a crash. It’s recommended that even children older than age 2 remain rear facing until they outgrow the rear-facing height or weight limit for their seat. When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with an internal harness and tether.

Q. When is my child ready to ride like an adult passenger?

A. Children aren’t ready to ride like adult passengers until the adult seat belt fits them properly; usually when they are 4’9” tall. Until then, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help children fit in an adult seat belt. Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone. But don’t be in a rush to move your child into a booster seat or seat belt! Children are best protected when using a car seat with an internal harness.

Q. How can you tell when an adult seat belt fits a child properly?

A. A seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the user’s upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the user’s shoulder and chest without crossing the neck or face.

Q. When is my child old enough to sit up front with me?

A. Until your child properly fits an adult seat belt, he or she should always ride in the back seat, and should always use the right-sized child car seat or booster seat. Different-sized children need to be protected differently (read on!).

Q. What are common mistakes to look out for when using a car seat?

A. Some common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:

  • using a forward-facing child car seat too soon;
  • installing the car seat too loosely and allowing the seat to move more than 1 inch at the belt path;
  • allowing the harness straps to fit loosely so they fail the pinch test; and
  • placing the chest clip too low, rather than at armpit level.

To help avoid some of these common mistakes, read the instructions that came with your car seat as well as your vehicle owner’s manual. Reading these instructions will help you determine whether to use a seat belt or the lower anchors, and when to use the tether to secure your seat. Your car seat instructions will help you position the car seat (rear facing, forward facing, or reclined) and properly use the internal harness, chest-clip, and buckle.

Q. How can I get hands-on help?

A. You’re in luck! It’s Child Passenger Safety Week, so child passenger safety technicians and other safety professionals are hosting events nationwide where parents and caregivers can get hands-on help to ensure their child is in the most appropriate car seat, and that it is installed and being used properly. Saturday, September 23, is National Seat Check Saturday; to find an event in your community, visit www.safercar.gov. And help is also available year-round, too. Find a car seat check event or child passenger safety technician in your area to make sure you’re using the right seat, every trip, every time.

Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are a child’s best defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. Be sure you’re making the right choice to protect your child!

Stephanie Shaw is an NTSB Safety Advocate in the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications and a certified child passenger safety technician.

Back-to-School Tips for Teen Drivers

By Stephanie Shaw

It’s hard to think of back-to-school season as anything other than an exciting new beginning. A new school year means new opportunities to learn, grow, and gain some independence; it’s also a new chance to make safe and healthy choices on and off the roads. The choices you make to achieve optimal health and safety can be simple—small changes to your everyday routine can create the greatest impact!

Guarantee a safe start to the school year by adopting a safety strategy that ensures you are rested, informed, and protected on and off the road. We’ve created some strategy tips for you that will contribute to a safe and healthy school year.

  1. Ride the school bus as often as possible.

Did you know that students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking the school bus than when traveling by car? The school bus is the safest method for getting to and from school and, when possible, it should be your preferred method of transportation. Before stepping foot on your journey to the bus stop, refresh your knowledge of safe school bus practices. Sit facing forward in your seat when the vehicle is in motion, buckle up if the bus is equipped with seat belts, and be aware of traffic on the roads when it’s time to hop off.

  1. Get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night.

Although extracurriculars are important, don’t forget to factor sleep into your schedule after the school day is over. Research shows that teens should get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night to guarantee they feel rested and refreshed for school in the morning. Make sleep a top priority on your schedule! Be sure to set bedtimes and stick to them. Checking your cellphone, watching television, and searching the Web on your laptop disturbs your sleep patterns and contributes to insufficient or interrupted sleep. If good grades and great school days are something you hope to achieve this school year, uninterrupted, quality sleep is key.

  1. Avoid all distraction on your morning and afternoon commute.

If you drive to and from school, remember that driving safely requires all your attention. Between 2014 and 2015, fatalities in distracted-driving–affected crashes increased by over 8%. Send your text messages, make phone calls, set your music playlist, and mute your cellphone before you put the key in the ignition. It’s also important to keep your morning routine activities in the house and off the road. Eat breakfast at the table, not in the driver’s seat, and put your makeup on in the bathroom mirror, not the rearview mirror. To reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths, you must disconnect from all distractions and focus all your attention on the road.

  1. Limit the number of passengers in the car on your way to and from school.

Extra passengers in the car create distractions. Driving with friends significantly increases the risk of a crash, which is why it’s important to limit the amount of people in your car as much as possible. Statistically, two or more peer passengers more than triples the risk of a fatal crash when a teen is at the wheel. You may become distracted by your peers’ conversations or actions in the car, and you may also be influenced to engage in risky driving behaviors when you know you’re being observed by others. Avoid driving with extra passengers, and you’ll avoid an extra distraction on the road.

Just a few simple changes to your daily routine can create a safer environment for you and your peers. Not only will these small changes help you achieve and succeed this coming school year, but you’ll also be creating safer roads for your family, friends, and community.

More Resources:

DriveitHOME

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS)

Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD)

Keeps Kids Alive DRIVE 25

Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA)

Governors Highway Safety Association

Impact Teen Drivers

 

Stephanie Shaw is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Keeping Rail Transit Safety Oversight on Track

By Member Christopher Hart

The Tremont Street Subway in Boston began service in 1897 as the first subway tunnel in North America. That subway tunnel was the beginning of the now complex rail transit system that is commonly known as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), or “the T.” With an average of 1.3 million passengers riding its heavy rail, light rail, trolleys, buses, and ferryboats each weekday, this is one of the busiest transit systems in the country.

Member Hart with NTSB and MBTA staff at the MBTA rail operations center

I recently had the opportunity to tour the MBTA system and learn how such a complex legacy system is managed. I also heard about the collaboration that has developed between the MBTA and its safety oversight body­—the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (MDPU). I often used the T years ago when I was in law school, so it was very informative to see how the system has grown and changed in the intervening years.

Improve Rail Transit Safety Oversight is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements to promote our recommendations addressing oversight of rail mass transit operations. It is critically important that rail transit systems be adequately monitored to maintain and enhance safety and to help ensure that small problems can be caught before they become big ones; our accident investigations have shown that an important part of that monitoring is effective safety oversight. This visit to the MBTA allowed us to observe some of those safety programs and their oversight.

Massachusetts is one of four states (the others being California, Colorado, and New York) that has the authority to compel a rail transit agency to comply with system safety program plans, Federal Transit Administration requirements, and state regulations or requirements. This authority has fostered a collaborative relationship between the MBTA and the MDPU for rail transit safety oversight. These two agencies are in regular contact about rail transit decisions; this open relationship enables faster resolution when issues arise and comprehensive planning to help prevent disasters from occurring.

Member Hart and Steve Hicks, MBTA Chief Mechanical Officer – Rail

It was very interesting to see the behind-the-scenes operations that keep everything running smoothly. We received comprehensive briefings from both the MDPU and the MBTA to better understand the system’s history, past and current safety challenges that the agencies face, and plans to improve safety systems and extend the service to serve more of the traveling public in the Boston area.

We also toured the MBTA Emergency Operations Control Center and learned how transportation and law enforcement officials work closely during major planned events, such as the Boston Marathon, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and the fireworks displays on July 4, and during unplanned emergencies, like weather events or disasters, to safely move as many people as possible under unusual circumstances.

Our MBTA guides took us underground to the new Emergency Training Center, built in former streetcar tunnels, to see where all MBTA operators, first responders, and law enforcement personnel receive emergency simulation training on heavy rail, light rail, and bus equipment and facilities.

Vehicle and equipment maintenance and upkeep are also part of good safety oversight and are needed to spot any actual or potential problems that may arise, diagnose them, and determine and implement a solution to keep everything running smoothly. To get some idea of that part of the operation, we toured the Orient Heights Car House and learned about the preventative maintenance program that helps ensure all cars are operating efficiently and safely.

On the second day of our tour, we rode the Green Line to get an in-depth look at this oldest subway line in the country. MBTA and MDPU personnel shared their progress toward implementing Positive Train Control—another item on our Most Wanted List—on this line, whose age, signal system, and street‑running sections present operational complexities and risks that the MBTA’s safety programs and oversight continuously seek to address.

The MBTA and the MDPU share the goal of providing and maintaining a reliable, safe transit structure to move the people of Boston safely and efficiently. We enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to visit and learn so much about this legacy system. In the coming years, we plan to reach out to other mass transit operators and their regulators to learn, first hand, what they are doing to build safer systems and prevent future accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

 

 

 

Inside the NTSB’s General Aviation Investigative Process

Addressing Medical Issues

By Dr. Nicholas Webster, NTSB Medical Officer

This is the second blog in a new series of posts about the NTSB’s general aviation investigative process. This series, written by NTSB staff, explores how medical, mechanical, and general safety issues are examined in our investigations.

The NTSB investigates every aviation accident in the United States. In each investigation, we look at the roles of the human, the machine, and the environment. By learning about the factors that cause an accident, we can make recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.

I am one of two medical officers (physicians) at the NTSB who work closely with investigators in all modal offices. When an investigator-in-charge (IIC) is concerned that operator medical issues, drugs, or toxins may have affected performance, he or she coordinates with us to study the medical aspects of the event. The medical officers review medical documents, toxicological testing results, and sometimes autopsy reports of those involved in accidents. In conjunction with the investigative team, we help determine if operator impairment or incapacitation contributed to the cause of the accident, then we help craft language to explain to the public the nature and significance of the medical issues and how they affected the operator and contributed to the accident’s cause. We also work closely with the Board’s biodynamics and survival factors experts to help evaluate accident-caused injuries and determine what changes could be made to prevent future injuries.

The resulting information is presented in a medical factual report, which documents all pertinent medical issues and any potential hazards that the medical issues posed. To ensure accuracy, these fact-based scientific reports are peer reviewed by the investigative staff before they are published as part of the public docket. The medical, factual, and operational details of each event are then analyzed by the investigatory team, which determines probable cause by consensus, peer review concurrence, and Board authority. The probable cause represents the most likely explanation for the event given all available evidence.

Two recent cases have garnered some attention in the general aviation (GA) community, both involving fully functional airplanes operating in manageable weather. In these cases, both pilot action (error or impairment) and pilot inaction (incapacitation) can lead to an accident. In these cases, we found that the pilots were operating in a relatively low-workload environment and had the skill and experience necessary to safely complete the flights. On the other hand, medical data showed that both pilots had severe heart issues that could cause sudden incapacitation without leaving a trace.

The first accident occurred on April 11, 2015, when an experimental Quad City Challenger II airplane crashed into terrain near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The 77-year-old pilot died and the airplane was substantially damaged. The pilot had the skill and experience to operate the airplane in visual conditions. According to witnesses, while the airplane was on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern at the pilot’s home airport, it entered a steep dive that continued until it struck the ground in an open field. Investigators found no evidence of preexisting mechanical concerns and, based on the propeller damage, determined that the engine was producing power at impact. Operational evidence also strongly supported pilot incapacitation.

The pilot had a history of coronary artery disease, which was treated by multivessel bypass surgery. He also had high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and hypothyroidism, which were controlled with medications. The autopsy showed that the pilot had an enlarged heart; severe multivessel coronary artery disease (greater than 80-percent occlusion of all vessels), with coronary artery bypass grafts and complete occlusion of two bypass vessels; scarring of the ventricular septum, indicating he had had a previous heart attack; and active inflammation of the anterolateral wall of the left ventricle of his heart. These findings, particularly the large scar and active inflammation of the heart muscle, placed the pilot at high risk for an irregular heart rhythm, which can easily cause decreased blood to the brain and result in fainting without leaving further evidence at autopsy.

Additionally, according to the Chippewa County Coroner Death Report, the cause of death was blunt force trauma. However, the examining pathologist further stated, “the most likely scenario to explain [the pilot’s] death is that he suffered an arrhythmia secondary to myocarditis.” These findings are discussed in detail in the medical factual report. Based on the available evidence, we determined the probable cause of the accident to be the pilot’s incapacitation due to a cardiovascular event, which resulted in a loss of control and subsequent impact with terrain.

The second accident of note was the crash into terrain of a homebuilt Europa XL airplane on June 26, 2015. As in the previous case, the pilot died and the airplane was substantially damaged. In this accident, the 72-year-old pilot also had the skill and experience needed to successfully complete the flight, especially given that it was a clear day and he was operating under visual flight rules.

The airplane crashed under power in a steep, nose-down, slightly inverted attitude in an open field about a half mile from the end of the runway, slightly to the right of an extended centerline. According to the IIC, there was no evidence of preexisting mechanical concerns, the engine was operating at impact, and the operational evidence suggested pilot incapacitation.

The pilot had a history of severe coronary artery disease, which was treated with multivessel bypass surgery, stents, and medication. Additionally, he had elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, which were treated with medications. Since his last medical certification examination, an exercise stress test showed no significant changes, but a cardiac catheterization report documented that his coronary artery disease had progressed, resulting in 90‑percent occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery and impaired blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. Additionally, the autopsy identified multivessel coronary artery disease treated with patent coronary artery bypass grafts, and documented up to 70-percent occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery.

These findings are discussed in detail in the medical factual report. The pilot’s severe progressive coronary artery disease and the impaired blood flow to an area of his heart muscle placed the pilot at high risk for an acute cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, anginal attack, or acute arrhythmia. Any such event would likely cause a sudden onset of symptoms such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath, palpitations, or fainting, and would leave no evidence visible on autopsy if death occurred in the first few minutes.

The Mahoning County Coroner Autopsy Report cited multiple blunt force injuries as the cause of death, with coronary artery disease and chronic hypertension contributing to the cause of death. Again, although the pilot died of blunt force injuries, the evidence supports our finding that the accident sequence was likely initiated by his incapacitation due to a cardiovascular event.

These cases illustrate how we integrate medical findings into our investigations. We also provide interested parties with links to publicly available, detailed information that supports our findings. In both of the cases described here, the medical factual reports document significant medical issues in pilots who were operating under sport pilot rules; however, we only determined the medically related probable causes after thorough, scientific, peer-reviewed analysis of all the available facts concerning the human, the machine, and the environment.

Our goal is to identify medically related hazards that may be causal to or resultant from the accidents we investigate, and then work with the experts on the investigative team to develop mitigation strategies, which take the form of safety recommendations, that target and eliminate these hazards and improve transportation safety.

Inside the NTSB’s General Aviation Investigative Process

By Member Earl F. Weener

This is the first in a new series of posts about the NTSB’s general aviation investigative process. This series, written by NTSB staff, will explore how medical, mechanical, and general safety issues are examined in our investigations. I hope you take time to read these posts and, in doing so, come away with a greater understanding of the NTSB, our processes, and our people.

It has been my ongoing honor and privilege to serve as a Member of the NTSB over the past seven years, and I’ve been impressed by the diverse professionals who make up the NTSB staff. They work in different modes—rail, highway, pipeline, marine, and aviation—and specialize in engineering, human factors, medicine, safety outreach, and recorders, to name a few, but they all share a common goal: to protect the traveling public through recommendations aimed at improving transportation safety.

The NTSB is made up of approximately 430 dedicated employees who have a wide range of educational backgrounds and relevant experience. Our ranks include MDs, JDs, and Ph.Ds. Among our investigators, we count former members of law enforcement, industry professionals, and technical experts. When we investigate an accident, a multidisciplinary team is selected to fit the needs of the investigation.

Member Weener and investigators at the scene of the July 2013, crash of a de Havilland Otter Air Taxi, in Soldotna, Alaska

I’m often asked how the NTSB—particularly our crash investigation process—works. The NTSB is required by law to investigate every aviation incident in the United States, and our aviation safety staff investigate more than 1,200 aviation events each year. Our investigative process looks at three factors—human, machine, and environment—to determine the probable cause of accidents and incidents. This process has evolved during our 50 years, leveraging the skills, talents, and professionalism of our people, who use the latest investigative techniques and tools to find facts, analyze those facts, and determine why and how an accident happened.

Investigators consider what may have caused or contributed to the events of every accident. They look for issues in areas such as mechanical failures, operations, and weather conditions. They doggedly work to recover all onboard recorders and other sources of data, even when those recorders may be severely damaged. They also consider pilot performance, collecting evidence regarding possible fatigue, medical fitness, prior training opportunities, and specific aircraft experience.

Evidence is gathered through cooperation with pilots, witnesses, law enforcement officials, the FAA, airport officials, industry, and other stakeholders; in extreme cases, our staff can also issue subpoenas to obtain needed evidence. Investigations cannot and do not try to answer every question of why and how, but focus on questions of what caused the accident, or made it worse. Probable cause is the factor—or factors—that, based on all available evidence, the Board concludes most likely resulted in the accident. It generally takes around a year to produce a final report, which includes a probable cause and contributing factors.

Based on our investigations and special studies, we issue safety recommendations to regulatory agencies, industry, and other parties to an investigation who are positioned to implement our suggestions and improve transportation safety. The NTSB isn’t a regulatory agency, so we cannot compel compliance with our recommendations; however, of the more than 14,500 safety recommendations issued in our 50-year history, more than 80 percent are acted upon favorably. This is testimony to the NTSB’s diligence, investigative acumen, and commitment to transportation safety.

Looking back over the years and contemplating the NTSB’s contributions, I am proud to see that transportation safety has, in fact, improved greatly—especially in commercial aviation. We have seen significant improvements in aircraft crashworthiness; the introduction of life-saving technologies, such as collision avoidance and ground proximity warning systems; implementation of safety policies and regulations aimed at preventing pilot impairment, distraction, and fatigue; and emphasis on safety management systems and enhanced flight crew procedures. NTSB investigations identified the need for these advancements and helped incentivize remarkable safety improvements. Modern commercial aviation is safer now than ever before.

I often quote author Douglas Adams, who tells us that people are almost unique in their ability to learn from others, but remarkable for their resistance to doing just that. You may have heard the old saying, “knowledge is power.” We believe “knowledge is safety.” I hope you take a moment to learn about the NTSB’s investigative process in the next several blog posts, and that you come away with a greater understanding of how we at the NTSB strive to turn our knowledge into safer transportation.

Teens and “Sleep Debt”

By: Dr. Jana Price

(This blog is also featured on NOYS.org.)

As young people’s schedules become busier and busier, it’s easy for sleep to fall off their priority list. Getting plenty of sleep helps youth complete tasks more efficiently, think clearly and creatively all day long, and stay alert while driving.

Although people generally recognize that sleep plays a significant role in ensuring they’re safe behind the wheel, many still admit to driving while fatigued. A recent AAA Foundation study found that 96 percent of drivers consider fatigued driving to be a serious threat and unacceptable behavior; however, nearly 3 in 10 of these same drivers admitted to driving drowsy. We believe that young drivers can avoid drowsiness if they better understand the importance of sleep, a sleep routine, and sleep debt.

Sleep is necessary for health, safety, and well-being. It helps the brain prepare for the upcoming day and allows new neural pathways to form that improve learning and memory. How much sleep do young drivers need? According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens ages 14 to 17 need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.

When people don’t get enough quality sleep, they begin to accumulate “sleep debt.” This can result from a late night of studying, getting up early for sports practice, or fragmenting sleep by using a cell phone during the night. Sleep debt accumulates over time and, ultimately, can affect a person’s ability to think and perform, negatively affecting tasks like driving. Sleep debt is also linked to high-risk behaviors, such as texting while driving, drinking and driving, and not wearing a seatbelt.

At the NTSB, we have witnessed the effects of unpaid sleep debt on teen drivers. On March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip at South Padre Island, Texas. About 1:57 p.m., the driver crossed the center median, lost control of the car, entered the opposing lanes of traffic, and collided with a truck-tractor semitrailer. The driver was seriously injured and her three passengers died. NTSB investigators learned that, in the 24 hours before the crash, the driver had very little opportunity for sleep: only about 5 hours on the morning of the crash. The crash also happened at a time of day when most people commonly experience a dip in alertness and performance; in fact, the three passengers in the car were all either asleep or dozing at the time of the crash. We determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.

What can teens do to reduce their risk of falling asleep behind the wheel? It’s important that youth get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to be rested and rejuvenated. They should resolve to create a good sleep environment, which includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule and keeping screens out of the bedroom. If a teen has built up a sleep debt by skimping on rest, he or she can pay it back by getting a good night’s sleep for several days in a row. Finally, teens should avoid driving during the night and early morning hours when sleep typically occurs.

As teens begin to plan their upcoming school schedules and enjoy their final weeks of summer vacation, they should make sure sleep and relaxation find a prominent place on their priority list. By encouraging youth to stay out of sleep debt, we can guarantee safer and more alert young drivers behind the wheel.

To learn more about this critical problem and how to help prevent teen drowsy driving crashes, join us for our Wake Up to Teen Drowsy Driving: Don’t Send Them Back to School in ‘Debt’ webinar.  To register for the webinar: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2417579063773167107

 

Jana Price, PhD, is a Senior Human Performance Investigator in the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

 

 

 

ADAS Must be Implemented in CMVs Now

By Rob Molloy, PhD

On July 24, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a roundtable discussion that addressed strategies to increase implementation of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) —or collision avoidance systems—in the trucking industry. Many of the truck crashes we have investigated may have been mitigated or even completely prevented if the vehicles involved were equipped with ADAS. Considering that these technologies have been available in some shape or form since the 1990s, this conversation was long overdue. (See our Special Investigation Report and Most Wanted List fact sheet for more details.)

We joined forces with the National Safety Council to bring together some of the key players in the industry to discuss how we can increase ADAS implementation throughout trucking fleets. The benefits of technologies like collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) are nearly indisputable, as shown in a number of published studies.

Dr. Robert Molloy leads roundtable discussion

Joining us at the table were technology suppliers, truck manufacturers, fleet owners, government officials, researchers, trucking associations, and highway safety advocates. One universally agreed-upon takeaway from this group was that the technology is improved and effective enough now that there is no reason more truck fleets shouldn’t have it in their vehicles. As one roundtable participant noted, “Don’t let what-ifs hold up proliferation of these technologies; this technology is ready to go . . . and the longer we wait, the more crashes will happen.” In response to concerns about occasional false alerts, another noted, “We can’t wait for the technology to be perfect.”

We talked about the current state of industry, driver training and acceptance, the challenges to implementation, the benefits of regulation versus voluntary compliance, and, ultimately, we identified ways to increase implementation.

So, what did we learn?

  • Strong cases exist for accident reduction and positive return-on-investment, and they need to be shared more. For example, Schneider reported a 95-percent reduction in accident severity and a nearly 70-percent reduction in frequency in vehicles with ADAS technology. The legal costs of accidents are tremendous and also serve as an incentive for ADAS adoption. “It only takes one accident to put a small fleet out of business,” one participant noted. We must keep reminding businesses of this.
  • We are talking about driver assistance systems, not driver replacement systems. Driver acceptance and training is key. Drivers must understand what certain alerts mean and the systems’ limitations. Performance standards will be a necessary component for more universally understood systems.
  • Regulations would speed the implementation process and will eventually be needed to reach all fleets and create a level playing field. In the meantime, there is also a model for voluntary compliance that works, such as the passenger vehicle AEB commitment made last year. In fact, at our roundtable, Volvo Trucks reminded us of their announcement to make a suite of ADAS standard on all of its newly manufactured trucks. Although Daimler Trucks hasn’t taken the step to make such systems standard yet, its representatives did note a doubling in the take rate of ADAS technology to 66% in their newly manufactured trucks.
  • Data from these systems can be used to develop better systems, validate their benefits, and understand driver activities. Much work needs to be done regarding the retention and use of this data.
  • ADAS technologies are only as successful as the underlying braking and stability systems with which they are integrated. Brakes must be properly maintained, and the electronic stability control mandate must be implemented.

Although this event was targeted toward truck fleets, the general public should care, too. Why? Because truck crashes, as compared to passenger vehicle crashes, disproportionately result in fatalities. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes increased by 8 percent, from 3,749 to 4,050, and the number of large trucks involved in injury crashes was 87,000. The traveling public—the ones in the cars in front of, beside, and behind these trucks—should be leading the drum beat to ensure all trucks are equipped with the technology that could stop the vehicle if the driver can’t, or warn a driver if another vehicle suddenly stops or gets into their lane.

As I mentioned, late last year, passenger vehicle automakers committed to installing AEB in all passenger vehicles by 2022—some even earlier, so I challenged the trucking industry to do the same, with the NTSB facilitating the effort. The trucking industry should step up to this challenge now and send a message that this is an industry concerned with safety. From the many conversations that I have had with truck operators and drivers, this is a story I already know is largely true: the truck industry—one so vital to our economy—cares about the safety of its drivers and the overall safety of vehicles on our roads. A commitment toward using available technology in all its operations will drive that point home.

 The recording of the roundtable event is available on YouTube. Also see the NTSB website page for more details on the event.

 Dr. Robert Molloy is the Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.